Searching for the principles guiding the shapes and patterns of living things

Through his research primarily with fish, Professor Kondo has revealed the principles behind patterns, such as stripes and spots, on the skin of living things. Professor Kondo is now moving beyond two-dimensional shapes and patterns and into research in three dimensions, notably in the mechanisms that determine the shapes of bones.

Kondo, Shigeru

Graduate School of Frontier Biosciences
Pattern Formation Group

Kondo, Shigeru

There is a mystery. I want to know the answer. That is science.
Maybe I'll fail?
No, no.
Thou shalt not doubt, for if one doubts there is no way forward.
If you start researching,
Those ideas become your way,
Those experiments become your way.
Proceed without hesitation, and you will understand for sure.
(Reference: The Inoki Anthology: "Be Foolish!")

Patterns are waves, which means they move!

Did you know that the patterns on animals’ skins move? For example, there is a fish called the emperor angelfish. When it is young, the patterns on it are swirls, and when it matures, the patterns change to stripes. Many people have heard of this. However, what is really interesting is what happens when the maturing emperor angelfish gradually grows from 10 centimeters to about 40 centimeters in length. Wouldn’t you suppose that the stripes that had formed would stretch and widen? Surprisingly, that is not the case. The stripes do not widen, but instead increase in number. Furthermore, the manner this increase takes place is amazing. The existing stripes develop branches which split off like a zipper coming undone to add a new stripe, without changing the width of the existing stripe. What causes this phenomenon to occur? The answer lies in that fact that patterns acts like waves. The stripe pattern is actually a wave. This is something that not even experts on fish understood until very recently. However, more than 60 years ago, a genius mathematician predicted that such patterns would be found to be waves. It was Alan Turing, who is better known for his work as a computer scientist. His hypothesis, that patterns on animals are waves that are the result of chemical reactions, has become a hot topic in biological fields.
Are you ready?!


Interdisciplinary research has become a necessity

I am often told that my research is a combination of biology and mathematics. However, I never set out specifically to combine those two fields in my work. When describing the shapes and patterns found in livings, I am merely using mathematics out of necessity.
Molecular biology, mathematics; these are just means to an end. These means do not motivate me. All research starts at a “mystery” that needs to be solved. There is no need to force oneself to engage in interdisciplinary research. I know that if I encounter a mystery that no one else has solved, methods that have been used until then will surely not be enough. In such situations, one must take a variety of approaches towards finding a solution. If one proceeds towards finding an answer, it is inevitable that interdisciplinary research will be part of that process.
With all this in mind, it is important to focus in on a mystery that appeals to you. Once you have that, the way towards the answer will reveal itself.
When there’s a will, there’s a way!

If you have a question in mind, the answer will reveal itself.

kondo3The natural world is full of mysteries. Because of this, it is not difficult to find a mystery for yourself to pursue. However, there will be no clear path to the answer. This is where the strengths of each scientist come into play. It is always wonderful when a unique mystery is solved by a scientist’s unique solution.
With that in mind, how exactly can you come up with your own wonderful solution? While it varies from person to person, I myself try to expose the essential truths obscured behind a mystery, and then pursue those truths in the search for answers.
Alan Turing once explored the fundamental answers to the very broad question of “How are complex animals formed?” That is, why is it a mystery that that animals are shaped the way they are?
Here is the heart of the matter: outside of the world of living things, there are no exact forms (more precisely, no spatial order) apart from those made intentionally by humans. It is a world ruled by entropy. However, in living things, highly-ordered forms are readily apparent. This is the core mystery.
Therefore, if a principle that autonomously creates spatial order exists, within that principle lie the answers. I was able to prove the existence of reactivity that creates waves (and other interval-based structures) by applying Turing’s hypothesis on chemical reactions. Focusing in on the mystery itself provided almost all the answers.
Unfortunately, Turing’s model had not been proven by anyone, and most biologists did not accept his hypothesis. The mystery for me, then, was why anyone didn’t believe this amazing hypothesis. The answer, of course, was that it was inconceivable that waves could move on bodies in an orderly way. At that point my path was clear: all I had to do was demonstrate the movement of the waves. I raised some fish notable for their highly mobile skin patterns, and in observing their growth process, I hit the jackpot. I was able to observe the patterns I have described above, and in one fell swoop, I was able to show how waves exist on the bodies of living things.While I know that researchers study many methods and means, there is one key point I would like you all to remember. The most important thing is finding a purpose. If you find a mystery that appeals to you for which you want to find the answer, pursue that answer without hesitation.
Ready…1, 2, 3, GO!